International backlash erupted yesterday over Trinidad and Tobago-born United States-based rapper Onika “Nicki Minaj” Maharaj’s social media claims in relation to COVID-19 vaccines.
And that included a denial on her view from Chief Medical Adviser to the US President Dr Anthony Fauci and England’s chief medical adviser, Prof Chris Whitty.
United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson was also drawn into the issue, as were T&T-born people overseas and locally after the rapper put T&T on the global map with her theory about the vaccine’s side effects.
On Monday, Minaj spoke about the requirement to be vaccinated in order to attend this year’s Met Gala event in the US. Show biz queens Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez and other headline acts attended the gala.
However, in a message on Twitter, an apparently unvaccinated Minaj said, “If I get vaccinated it won’t for the Met. It’ll be once I feel I’ve done enough research. I’m working on that now. ….”
She, however, urged people to mask up. But Minaj followed up this by relating a story about a family member’s friend in T&T who she claimed “became impotent” after getting vaccinated.
Her tweet stated, “My cousin in Trinidad won’t get the vaccine cuz his friend got it & became impotent. His testicles became swollen … His friend was weeks away from getting married, now the girl called off the wedding. So just pray on it & make sure you’re comfortable with ur decision, not bullied.”
There was immediate denial on her theory from US public health expert Dr Leana Wen (George Washington University), who said impotency isn’t a known side effect of any COVID-19 vaccines that are currently authorised by the US Food and Drug Administration.
Minaj’s tweet was also denied by US journalist/New York Times best-selling author Kurt Eichenwald, who said what she related wasn’t a vaccine side effect but was called hydrocele and in adults, the primary cause was injury or sexually transmitted disease.
The incident she referred to also got immediate “shade” and backlash from many on her Twitter feed.
Up to 6.30 pm yesterday, there were 32,700 responses on the account, with people criticising her remarks as well as supporting her. Minaj retorted to some.
The Evening Standard reported that UK PM Johnson was drawn into the issue yesterday when a reporter asked him and England’s chief medical adviser Whitty about Minaj’s tweet.
Johnson was quoted saying, “I’m not as familiar with the work of Nicki Minaj as I probably should be but I’m familiar with Nikki Kanani, superstar general practitioner of Bexley.”
But England chief medical adviser Whitty shot down Minaj’s vaccine claims as untrue. He said it was designed to scare people. Whitty said Minaj should be “ashamed of herself for peddling untruths” on social media. He said there are a number of myths that fly around, some of which are ridiculous and others designed to scare “and that happened to be one of them.”
The Standard reported that Minaj issued a “mocking video,” using a fake British accent addressing PM Johnson. She said sarcastically that she was actually British, was born in the UK, attended Oxford University, attended school with Margaret Thatcher and would send Johnson a portfolio of her work, since he didn’t know much about her.
The Standard said Minaj added, “I’m a big big star in the United States.”
The report also showed a Tweet from her saying her video should be sent to Johnson.
“Let him know they lied on me. I forgive him. No one else. Only him,” she said.
In the US at 4 pm yesterday, Dr Fauci was asked by CNN journalist Jake Tapper about Minaj’s claim and if the Pfizer, J&J and Moderna vaccines caused reproductive issues. Tapper said it was unbelievable and asked how health authorities could counter misinformation from big stars like Minaj. It was noted that Minaj had close to 180 million social media followers.
Fauci said the answer on whether the vaccines cause the issue she referred to was a “resounding no” and there was no scientific evidence to support that happens, nor is there any “mechanistic reasons to imagine that it would happen.” Suggesting correct information be provided to debunk such claims, Fauci said he wasn’t blaming Minaj, who might be innocent. But he added, “She should be thinking twice about propagating information that really has no basis except a one-off anecdote and that’s not what science is about.”
Acclaimed neurosurgeon and medical reporter Dr Sanjay Gupta also dismissed Minaj’s claim. He said while he does not doubt the gentleman’s testicles are swollen, it’s not from the vaccine.
“That’s not a thing. That’s not something to worry about,” he said.
Other healthcare providers also commented on Minaj’s testicular claim, dismissing it as being untrue.
Board-certified urologist Ashley Winter said: “The vaccine does not cause orchitis (ie swollen balls). Something else caused that. Tons of data that getting COVID does affect semen parameters and might lead to infertility. Vaccines prevent COVID! Misinformation kills.”
On September 9, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tweeted that vaccines do not affect fertility.
“You should get vaccinated against #COVID19 if you’re trying to get pregnant now or in the future. No evidence to date shows that any vaccines, including COVID-19 vaccines, can cause fertility problems in men or women,” it said.
Locals laugh off claims
Commenting on Nicki Minaj’s Twitter feed was former Minister Devant Maharaj, who said, “We love the music … stick to that. Leave the medical studies to those who qualified.“
T&T reporter Kejan Haynes also commented, ”He went for a shot and ended up with …“
People in T&T – as well as some in the US – yesterday complained that Minaj’s comment was bringing T&T into disrepute and would discourage people from getting vaccinated.
One young fan said they loved her music but didn’t like that she had “told the world about her cousin’s friend in Trinidad with swollen balls…she made it sound like T&T is a backward place,“
Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh didn’t answer queries yesterday on whether Minaj’s vaccine advice would help or hurt the local bid to get citizens vaccinated. Tourism Minister Randall Mitchell also did not answer calls or messages on how her actions and comments would affect T&T’s international image.
During the Twitter debate on the issue, Minaj tweeted that a lot of countries won’t let “ppl work w/o (without) the vaccine and she’d “def” (definitely) recommend they get the vaccine.
“They have to feed their families, I’m sure I’ll be vaccinated as well cuz I have to go on tour etc,“ she said.